The SLEUTH, PART II.
HD knew he had the chops to undertake this task. For some reason and for a short period of time, he kept asking himself whether or not he could pull it off. As per his mantra, this moment of a weakness gave him the impetus to move forward to gather strength. He reached the phone and called the office secretary to make arrangements for the hearings in front of the full Council. It was set in 2 weeks. He gave himself a deadline of 2 weeks to move mountains. HD kept salivating at the opportunity to engage people and help modulate their decision. At the same time, he kept repeating to himself that “failure was not an option.”
HD did some additional search and of course discovered some more facts. For example, the Council President was the mayor. His town doubled as the county seat. Furthermore, the government office included a suite for the mayor and a different suite for the county employees. Just as important, his sleuthing dug the tidbit that the mayor, just like him, was a rabid fan of both the Celtics and the Patriots. The entry points were adding up, to his liking. He saw this as the low hanging fruit.
What HD didn’t know yet was that the mayor was a wily political animal. He was very cautious and always covered his tail. He knew of other pols who were caught with their pants at half-mast and he didn’t want to become embroiled in any setup. The next-door township had a scandal a few years back and some folks were caught in a bribery scheme. That cemented his resolve to avoid any underhanded activity.
HD became involved in a cat and mouse play. He descended on the township, 30 miles west of Boston, and was careful not to make any waves. He was staying at a local hotel, on the side of a local highway. The county office was a couple of miles away. He came to the office, a big log cabin construction, not uncommon in this region, with a Celtics sweater on as well as a shirt and tie and asked to speak to the county president. He received the info that he was in that office once a week and didn’t mingle city business with county affairs. HD’s mission encompassed both city and county interests. He made sure he smiled and remained polite. He left his business card. The appointment was the next day at 2PM.
He decided to go to the center of town and to look around. He couldn’t help but notice the mayor’s election headquarters. He went in, spoke with the receptionist and inquired about the campaign manager or treasurer and the next time the mayor would have a rally. It just so happened that the manager who was also the treasurer, Chippy, was inside. “I represent some deep-pocketed individuals interested about bringing economic development to this area. I am sure we can have a meeting of the minds,” he says to the manager while extending his hand for a handshake. “What exactly do you have in mind?” the man asked him and pointing to a chair for him to sit and closing the door behind him. HD took the time to explain the project, his role in it and the benefits for the region. He came up with some hard data about the jobs lost, the economic straits of the region, the unemployment rate and so on. He left no stone unturned. “And of course, being a pragmatic man, I wouldn’t mind contributing to the campaign.” He gave a check for fifteen hundred dollars. The conversation then veered to sports, his roots and so on. Being from the New England area, sporting a Celtics sweater became a focal point of the remainder of the conversation. Before he left, “Look, I will be frank with you. There is a possibility that there can be a meeting of the minds. Just remember that the final decision will rest on the narrative, and most importantly on the benefits to the area. I don’t want you to get the impression that the donation binds the mayor in any way, shape or form,” the man said in a somewhat loud manner as if to ensure others heard it and to make an obvious point. “Understood. All we ask is a chance to make our case and prove beyond any doubt that this is a win-win situation,” he responded. The man gave him a wink and patted his back. HD gave him his card and the man also gave him his. He was a gym teacher and coached the high school football team also. In fact, he was on his way to a practice session with the team. HD went and watched it for a while. All they did was talk about sports and nothing else. A bond was slowly establishing. This was late in November. Both local professional teams were playing. “I haven’t been to the Boston Garden in a while. I may look it up this coming week-end,” HD said. He wanted to offer a comp ticket but thought the better of it and didn’t want to sound too pushy and raise suspicion. To break the silence, HD turned the conversation around and redirected it toward the young players. After a while he left, and they slapped five.
The following day, HD went to the appointment 15 minutes early. “The man with good manners, girls!” The secretary exclaimed, an elegant middle-aged woman in a casual outfit, “The best pizza of the area. How did you know of its existence?” HD as a sleuth did sift this useful information from his available database. “I am from the Boston area, I know about it,” he politely responded, still smiling. “Nice courtesy gesture, I must say,” one plump employee mentioned while rubbing her belly and mimicking mastication. “This way, my friend, Marv will see you,” the secretary hugged him by the arm and brought him to the Council President’s office. “We got you covered,” she murmured.
“You are making a lot of noise in no time and throwing your weight around. What is this all about? Why are you so generous?” an avuncular man with a gruff voice lobbed at him. “Don’t you for a minute think you can buy your way through bribe. I won’t allow it!” “This is the last thing on my mind. I just like to be nice with people I work with. I want good karma to come with any transaction I am involved with. And…” “Hold it buster! You maxed out on the contribution to my campaign. What’s your agenda?” HD carefully enumerated the purpose of his visit, his position, just like the day before with the campaign manager. He knew for fact they must have talked about him and everything he said. Marv’s response was almost a rote recitation, at least it had the look and feel of it. HD understood perfectly that some people’s sensibility can be frayed with the appearance of impropriety and he wanted to dissipate any doubt, ally any fear or suspicion and begin to establish some trust. The mayor gave him a hard way to go, even threatening to return the contribution rather than taint his reputation. HD thought he was either a good actor or overly cautious to the point of paranoia. Either way, he wanted to tread carefully because he couldn’t afford to return to Washington DC, empty-handed.
Just as suddenly, “So you are a Celtics fan?” he blurted out. “Word has it that you are also!” HD replied with the best smile he could corral with his torso relaxed in the chair. So, they talked about sports and agreed on the potential of their teams being perennial winners in an us-vs-them mode. The conversation ended with a handshake at the doorway, a gesture not lost on observers. “I think you have a fair chance of convincing people, good luck and do due diligence.” Words of wisdom given with clarity, openly, with a listening audience, knowing full well the word will spread that at least this is a credible party.
This noncommitment was far better than outright rejection. His campaign contribution could have been returned. It was Friday and HD went to the secretary who was all smiles. He inquired about the other members of the council and the best way to approach each individually. She gave him a sheet with each member’s name and office telephone number. “Thanks for lunch,” several of them said. “I call it good manners,” the secretary repeated, lightly touching the top of his hand.
He was about to leave the building when he felt someone touch his shoulder, “Hi, I am Kate. Let’s have a drink at the ‘Happy Hour’ at your hotel and I will tell you everything you need to know about this place.” She was a young chick in her twenties; she waived goodbye and, “See at six sharp.” HD was surprised a bit as he hadn’t even seen her before. A brazen invitation from a female was nothing new to him. He had this type of appeal to women. On his way home, he was debating if he needed to start calling the other members this late in the day on a Friday where more than likely none would be available or wait till Monday. It occurred to him that he ought to take the gambit and let Kate spill out some beans. There’s never a better source of info than from an insider, so-called humint (human intelligence) in his previous job, he knew as a rule of thumb. Having a mole drop on your lap sometime sounded too good to be true. He would need to be careful and do some background check on her. He was always careful not to become entangled with anybody with arrest record, drug habit, DUI and so on. As a matter of principles, he was against the use of recreational drugs. As an African-American, he always wanted to walk on a straight path to avoid trouble that could interfere with his livelihood.
Once he reached his hotel, using his own encrypted access to the internet, he dialed into his network at work and did the appropriate search. She had a speed ticket once but otherwise a clean sheet. Going over his progress, he felt somewhat comfortable. He made some inroads with the president and his election treasurer. He still had a steep hill to climb. He needed to have a town hall meeting to field questions from folks, have close-up meetings with each Council member. His plan needed to pass muster and the smell test. “Meeting of the minds” needs not be a shady reification. It’s the principal mechanism of economic growth where needs and resources find a way to establish a balance, rights and finance can coexist in harmony. He wants the project to be accepted on its own merit; the gestures offered should be taken as a goodwill matter, no more no less. Under no circumstances was he to make gestures and fail. As experienced as he was, he knew that hubris was always a danger leading one to myopia and to be blindsided. He wanted to remind himself of such on a daily basis. Past successes were no guarantee, he knew. Factoring in a bit of uncertainty about the outcome is a healthy habit.
HD went to the exercise room and spent a good 45 minutes of workout while listening to a local TV just to get acquainted with the regional mood. He had picked up a town paper and perused through it. The smallest detail may help in establishing the total picture. Happy Hour was posted to start at 6PM, in one hour. The workout did him some good both physically and mentally. He was looking forward to receiving tips about the goings-on of the Council and city politics. Having accurate intelligence was always an advantage in any endeavor. Knowing what the opposing party is thinking and planning makes it a bit easier to plot your entry points. He took a 15-minute nap to relax. He was becoming hungry and took a shower and came down at six PM. A well-made-up Kate was standing and waiting. He walked to her and they took a seat at the bar. They had a couple of drinks and afterwards went to the dining room. Soon her tongue loosened, “Gossip is the currency at the office. Everybody talks. When you first came in, it wasn’t long before we knew that a cute-looking fella was in town…Fornication is so common, you have no idea. The secretary is Marv’s girlfriend, never mind he is married. The two females in the council are polar opposites. Jenny, a Republican, is also fooling around with the other Republican member, Bob. Gaby an Independent is straight as an arrow and a pain in the ass. She is the one always to scrutinize every document, ask the most questions. She will be a piece of work. With her, make sure you have all your facts straight because she will do the research and can embarrass you. However, she will listen and can be convinced….”
“On the other hand, Jenny is easygoing. If you want to reach Bob, you need to go through her as they always vote together, and she more or less controls him. They are both divorced… As for Joey, the African-American member, he is my mom’s boyfriend, a real gem of a person… The other Independent, Roger, is the hardest to deal with; he is against any development project. The other Democrat, Ozzie, his daughter and me went to high school together and we hang out at times…” On and on she went, giving minute details about the private lives of the members. She did say that Marv was impressed with him and this was well known now. After a couple of hours and many drinks later, “Can we go upstairs to your place?” she asked him while rubbing his thigh gently. He obliged and fireworks took place in his room that night. When she left in the wee hours of the morning, “No worry, I will be your eyes and ears,” she promised him.
HD had a trove of information and he had several entry points that he could start working on right away. The next person to target would be Joey who was on friendly terms with Kate, and also was in the midst of an electoral campaign. The next target should be Jenny who was known to be favorable to economic development. The following day, a Saturday, there would a local high school football game and that would be the social event of the week. For a small place, this would represent the appropriate time to meet major stakeholders. HD did go to the game and he met Joey who was greeting attendees, part of retail politics. Kate and her mom were also present, and both invited him to come to their home later to have a private meeting with Joey. Kate’s mom was his campaign treasurer. Jenny was also present and he took time to go to greet her and she received a briefing, succinct though it was but well condensed to pique her interest. She agreed to a meeting at her office the following Monday. He also met one of the two Independents, Roger, “So far I am concerned, your project is dead on arrival. A pristine area needs to remain as such. I am not going to change my mind.” Such ironclad opposition was an open and shut case. It only confirmed what he was very suspicious of: someone with cult-like conviction with no room to maneuver and a waste of time to try to convince otherwise. Gaby on the other hand was as advertised. “I don’t conduct business when I am socializing. I take my job seriously. I will see you in my office and come prepared because I will,” in a firm, no-nonsense way. At least he had fair warning.
Later on, that day, HD did make it to Kate’s house. Joey was present and he gave him a thorough presentation. Joey’s girlfriend mentioned his generous donation to the Marv’s campaign in passing and HD got the hint and repeated the act. “You mean business, thanks,” she said. Over dinner, Kate continued her chattering and gave details about the splurging on the pizza by folks, including Marv. “Pizza and doughnut always win the day,” she let it be known. For the duration of HD’s stay, Kate could be counted on for information, ravenous appetite for food and sex.
HD visited his parents near Boston the following day and returned late to avoid giving Kate the habit of coming over every night. He had to prepare for the incoming hearings about the project. Posters with architectural renderings, flyers with Q&As, power point presentations to make a cohesive narrative had to work in a seamless manner. Testimony by the architect and an economist used as a paid consultant were also part of the presentation. Nothing was left to chance. Answers for every imaginable objection were found.
Over the next several days, HD had his hands full. His formal meeting with Gaby was a very significant hurdle. She listened very attentively and took copious notes and asked a lot of questions. In fact, HD would later say, “You would think I was defending a thesis.” That was the beginning. She insisted on him coming back after reviewing everything. The second time was even more tedious. She tested his resolve, challenged his patience and his wit. When he tried to avoid handwriting for the obvious reason, to his usual repartee about hieroglyphics, she responded, “So long as you don’t make cuneiform symbols, I am ok with it.” She would not take no for answer. HD had never come across a nerd like her before.
HD made the rounds with the remaining members and each time did a convincing performance, far easier than with Jenny. A paid ad in the form of an elegant presentation was published in the local paper, making the case for the project. The firing was taking place on all cylinders.
The hearings were the final hurdle. Gaby asked the most questions. The emphasis on jobs creation carried a lot of pull and swayed citizens. Offering of composting in lieu of fertilizers to be used for shrubs and trees planted, the use of solar panels went a long way to change people’s minds. As HD was hoping, the Council approved the project in 5-1vote. Afterwards, Gaby told him, “Good work.” That was the ultimate compliment she could bestow. HD was surprised by the gesture as drained as he was by her constant prodding. As a sign of good will, the day after the vote, he arranged for distribution of doughnuts and pizzas at the county office. This successful mission was a major feather in HD’s cap.
Reynald Altéma, MD